Mikel Arteta claimed that Villarreal’s early goal destroyed the team’s plans but the team rallied back in the second half. The boss also pointed out the challenge in front of the team in the second leg.
After the two early goals from Villarreal, the team went down to ten men after a Dani Ceballos red card. However, the team got back into the tie after Nico Pepe put away a penalty after Bukayo Saka was tripped in the box.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for a chance to level the game but he failed to covert.
Mikel Arteta accepted the the 2-1 scoreline after the way the game went.
“Obviously we are disappointed we lost the game because it is not the result that we wanted to take from it,” he told his post-game press conference.
“But after the story of the game we have to take it because we are in the tie, we are alive and, with the circumstances that developed during the game, it put the game and the tie in real danger at some stage.”
The boss was questioned after he fielded a team without a recognized striker but he said it was his players’ sluggish start rather than his tactics that had them on the back foot.
“It’s the way we prepared for the game,” said the boss. “It’s the decision that I made, thinking that it was the best way to play, but the game was conditioned after four minutes so it was difficult to assess whether it would work or not. Conceding from the set piece as well also changed it and after, we had to approach it in a different way.
He added: “I think the first goal was a big shock. It was almost the first action that they went over the halfway line and they scored a goal, and after that, we were touched, we didn’t expect it, we were touched, we didn’t quite react, and then we conceded the set-piece goal that’s obviously crucial in these ties, and then the team needed a break.
“After that break, we reset, we reorganised, we talked about a few things and then we were a different team in the second half.”
Asked about the mood in the dressing room, Arteta said:
“Well, comparing how it was at half time, it’s very different!
“But I said to them we have an opportunity, it’s a big challenge that we have ahead of us, but we have the opportunity to make it, but it has to be now. In the return leg it’s going to be too late, we have to change it right now. If we’re able to do that, we’re going to get here in a completely different position.
“We still had another incident which was the red card and playing with 10 men against this team, and the team went to a different level again and we got the goal.”